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It’s time for more eLearning in agriculture

 

Traditionally, technology transfer in agriculture has consisted of clusters of summer crop tours and winter meetings. That’s when farmers get the scoop on new seed varieties, agronomic developments and new regulations impacting their operation. It`s also an opportunity to update skills and compliance for such things as pesticide application.

Today, with the pace of change in agriculture, technology transfer is faster than ever. Farmers need to know how to use new products and technology properly, whether it’s feeds, medications, herd health protocols, crop management, or how to operate the mounting technology in the tractor cab. It’s complex, time consuming and likely to get even more challenging.

The growing size of Canadian farms also makes technology transfer more important; there are now many more farm employees who need to understand how to use these products and technologies. And with increasing levels of regulation and compliance, more people on the farm require training and in some cases, certification.

In agriculture, we’ve built a tradition of in-person training, typically during the ‘meeting season.’ The industry has been slow to uptake the advantages of distance education or ‘eLearning’ when it’s actually a perfect fit for a geographically dispersed industry. That was never more evident last winter after we talked with an instructor at a farm training meeting who had driven eight hours to deliver a one-hour presentation. In agriculture, eLearning can reduce time-consuming travel required to attend these meetings and provide busy farmers and agribusiness professionals with the flexibility to complete training according to their schedule, and when it’s most timely and relevant. It really is a perfect fit for agriculture.

A good example of the potential for eLearning in agriculture is the Midge Tolerant Wheat training program. Midge tolerant wheat varieties contain the Sm1 gene that gives the crop tolerance to withstand the yield-robbing effects of the wheat midge pest, but strict stewardship guidelines must be followed to ensure the Sm1 does not fall victim to resistance. With this goal in mind, seed retailers are required to help farmers understand and implement specific refuge requirements to protect the technology.

It may sound like a big job to provide compulsory training to hundreds of seed retailers scattered across Western Canada, but it’s not that difficult if you employ eLearning. This new Midge Tolerant Wheat training allows retailers to log on at their convenience from their office computer, tablet or smartphone. It takes 20 minutes to complete and incorporates a quiz to ensure users understand the information. Each person received a certificate and a confirmation number to verify that they have completed the modules.

No doubt meeting season will continue to be a fixture of farming, but with the pace of technology transfer, the changing structure of Canadian farms and the need for efficiency, eLearning needs to become a new farming and agribusiness tradition.

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